The Psychology of the Adult Female Sleepover
Are we too old for this?
There is no reason for a group of adult women to undress completely and jump into a pool. Especially not at night, because the moon can’t warm your skin when you come out of the water, shivering. There is no reason, which I guess is the point. It’s the rare state of feeling like a kid again in your adult life: playtime past your bedtime in a fort where you know to crouch low because if you stand up to your real height you’ll see that you’ve outgrown the tiny space.
I am at that point in my late twenties where bachelorettes are frequent. My single friends and I also get itchy in the summer city so we go away on weekends. Both are instances where, often, not everyone is previously connected. Your best friend, the bride, has a new best friend she met at work; that girl your girlfriend invited because she “seems nice!” was a last minute addition. It means that for the sake of a good experience and because boundaries will be few, new acquaintances are asked to become confidants in an instant.
It can be hard to make friends as an adult in the real world. We are set in our ways and others in theirs. Incompatibilities make themselves known immediately, because just as age spots are harder than pimples to cover up, established personalities are stubborn. Friends already have friends and don’t seem to be looking for more. Everyone’s busy. It’s also awkward.
But a short trip takes planets and crashes them into one another, forcing foreign and familiar worlds to form a temporary solar system. Beds are shared. Towels are swapped. Bonds are created.
“Why have women gone to the bathroom together since the beginning of time?” New York City-based psychotherapist Jessica Aronson asked me — a rhetorical question. “We experience a unique type of comfort in ‘girly time’ that men don’t when they hang out together. It’s always been that way.”
When I expressed that these adult sleepovers feel more manic than they did in my childhood — they’re so intense, so involved; when you leave the weekend on Sunday you’re locked into a cult-like group chat for life — Aronson turned it back over to the daily reality that we’ve created: “The buzz and the high and the need to let loose all come from the fact that we’re always stressed. Society places an emphasis on more, more, more — how much can you do in a week.”
So when you get away from all that you kind of…explode.
Sarah Gray Miller, Editor-in-Chief of Modern Farmer, is known within a small circle for hosting “girls weekends” at her home-slash-adult-sleep-away-camp in upstate New York. The word “girls” is being used loosely, as it is throughout this whole article: these are women between thirty and fifty, who have established careers, esteemed job titles and know how to pay their taxes without calling their mothers. They are past that late-twenties bachelorette tornado, and yet at Miller’s house — detached from the city and deadlines — they are every bit as unreserved.
If not more so, because I’ve only been made privy to the parts Miller deemed fit for print. (She had to clear this interview with Modern Farmer’s PR department and I had to promise that I wouldn’t publish the name that they’ve given their camp.)
“We’re like 14-year-olds up here,” Miller told me.
“Our maturity levels drop instantly. There’s absolutely no filter. We eat cheese dip. We laugh so hard. It’s ridiculous and fantastic.
We don’t really get to see each other in the city, and when we do, it’s in public — out for a drink, or at a dinner. We have to behave, and there’s a deadline because we have to get back home to our lives. But out here, you just have to make it upstairs to your bed.”
And as every woman who has ever taken part in a sleepover knows, it’s not always about where you pass out. Sometimes it’s about the ritual of waking up.
“We call my bed ‘the crate,’ as in dog crate. In the morning, even if I’m still asleep, the girls start to climb in. Someone will bring magazines and someone else will grab junk food, and we’ll all spend the morning there just hanging out.”
It is kind of intense. Not just Miller’s experience but mine and anyone’s whenever a group of women get together in an escape setting that pulls you out of orbit. It’s either a science project or a snow globe or both, but something happens when you shake up an adult’s routine for a weekend.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Aronson. “It’s a way for adults to be playful and restorative within a time limit. It counters all of the other parts of life that move so quickly. Let’s celebrate and get great PJs. We should all go back to our inner child a bit.”
In middle school, my friends and I had sleepovers all the time. We had nothing else to do on Friday nights except pack ourselves into a pile of cartoon-covered sleeping bags on the floor — “like kittens,” my mom used to say. We basically slept on top of one another. It feels like a waste of space to chronicle all that we did, because you did it, too: paint one another’s nails and eat ice cream. Memorize dance routines. Gossip without any guilt. At that age, gossip was a thick, delicious chocolate milkshake while our consciences were as resilient as our lactose-tolerant metabolisms.
Now, the way you feel after gossiping depends on who you shared it with. “Oh shit” almost always follows dropped filters at happy hour with work colleagues. But women don’t just gossip during these weekends — they bare their souls. Openly. It’s kind of weird!
But it’s also really special.
These weekends forge relationships because there’s a common thread — the bride, a short vacation, some sort of an occasion. That thread and the ephemeral bubble of suspended reality are what encourages the bond to seal quickly.
What Aronson said to be careful of is feeling burdened by keeping up “thirteen new friendships” when the bubble pops and we go back to reality. Group texts will ping until eternity if you let them. Be mindful of who you actually connected with and only pursue those relationships further if you’re inclined. If you’re not, don’t.
A little bit of sand will come home with you no matter what. You don’t have to pack the entire beach.
The last night of a recent bachelorette I attended found an assorted group of us out by the pool around 1 a.m. We didn’t have much in common anymore beyond our shared high school alma mater — that and no one could be bothered to put on a swimsuit after pizza. A few girls balanced on deflated floats, some sat in the lukewarm hot tub. I sat in a chair, freezing, knees tucked into my sweatshirt. We stayed out there forever talking about life and literally nothing.
Later, I fell asleep next to two of my best childhood friends. I never see them. We’re bad at staying in touch. It’s largely my fault. And it makes me sad, often. There were plenty of wide open spots to crash, yet we rolled in toward one another, just like old times. I read somewhere that cats use their whiskers as a measure of their own body’s width, to ensure that if they enter into a tight space or a new area, they know they’ll fit. This was like that. Three of us — our adult lives paused — in one bed. A reminder that we still fit.
Feature collage by Lily Ross; quote slides designed by Emily Zirimis.